Skip to main content

Thank you, Miss America

By Roxanne Jones, Special to CNN
September 17, 2013 -- Updated 1546 GMT (2346 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roxanne Jones: Indian-American Miss America a reminder of universality of American beauty
  • She says these days everyone knows it, even though haters and runway fashion culture lag
  • She says proud Indian-American Nina Davuluri could help draw attention to sex assault in India
  • Jones: Women, like Julie Chen, who changed eyes for TV, can embrace any beauty they want

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete," (Random House) and CEO of Push Media Strategies.

(CNN) -- Dear Miss America,

Thank you for reminding us what classic American beauty looks like today. For the rest of America -- in case any of you have been sleeping for, say, the past two decades, or clinging to out-of-touch fashion magazines -- here's an alert: Beauty is Serena Williams and Michelle Obama. Beauty is Angelina Jolie and Marissa Mayer.

And yes, beauty is Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

Women's beauty cannot be debated or dictated by others. So in tribute to women across the globe, I celebrate your beautiful brown skin, your breathtaking Bollywood dance skills, and the hard work that I'm sure you put in, not only to earn top grades and graduate from the University of Michigan with a degree in brain behavior and cognitive science, but to become the first Indian-American woman to take home the tiara. I love it.

The beauty pageant circuit is a tough act, as I learned early from my fleeting experiences as a teen who participated in several pageants. Don't laugh, that college scholarship money is no joke. Back then, there were no other brown girls on the stage. No matter. My family and friends cheered me on and told me how beautiful I was -- and I had the audacity to believe them.

Sadly, it was the talent portion that always sunk me. Painting and poetry-writing just didn't cut it as a stage act. Lucky for me, I found journalism, but those pageants helped give me the confidence to believe that I could share the stage with anyone.

Miss America, I hope you use your crown and platform well and that you have the courage to amplify the voices of those women and girls back in your ancestral home, India, who are valiantly fighting for full equality and the right to live without fear of the brutal sexual violence that plagues that nation.

You are not the first woman of color to take the crown. It was 30 years ago that Vanessa Williams became the first black Miss America. Seven other black women and one Asian woman have won since then. And most went on to successful careers.

But whenever this happens, those pesky bigots climb out of their caves to rant and rave and spew their ignorance about why it's not fair. Ignore them.

Former Miss California: How do we teach kids diversity is beautiful?

Clearly, those divergent voices -- and I admit there are many -- failed even the most basic fourth-grade geography lesson and likely couldn't even find India on a map, which is why they mistakenly think you are Arab. Perhaps they have you confused with Rima Fakih, a Lebanese immigrant from Dearborn, Michigan, who in 2010 was the first Arab-American to win the Miss USA pageant. Must be hard keeping up with a changing world when you've spent so much time trying to ignore and reject all those people who look different from you.

Miss Kansas tatted and expert shot
Miss Kansas shows off her ink
Miss USA contestant has painful response

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are 3.2 million people of Asian Indian descent living in the United States. Their median income for 2010 was $90,711. In fact, Indians surpassed Filipinos as the nation's second-largest Asian population, after Chinese, the data show.

Still, some people will never accept that it is families like yours that are helping to make America a stronger nation. Don't let them distract you on your journey. Sounds like you're on the right track:

"I'm so happy this organization has embraced diversity," you said, according to The Associated Press. "I'm thankful there are children watching at home who can finally relate to a new Miss America." Asked about the negativity, you said, "I have to rise above that. I always viewed myself as first and foremost American."

Use those haters to inspire you reach your dream to become a cardiologist, Ms. Davuluri. Reject voices that would try to define and limit you. Reject the magazine covers and fashion gurus, who may understand how to design and sell a pretty dress but have no clue about what defines a woman's beauty, as evidenced by the consistent and blatant lack of diversity on the runways during Fashion Weeks both here and abroad.

Reject the critics -- men and women -- who bash women like television personality Julie Chen for getting plastic surgery after being told by her bosses nearly 20 years ago that her Asian eyes would hurt her career. Chen made her choice back then, and brava for her for starting a public debate now about Asian beauty standards.

Today, Chen looks wonderful -- hard to tell from a 20-year-old photo if she had grown to be a natural beauty with her original face. But I, for one, want to live in a world where grown women have the right to decide what is best our careers and our bodies.

Was it an awful message to give women in the workplace? Yes. But it's no different from the countless occasions throughout my career that I've witnessed women being told that they are too fat, too black or too Latina to succeed. In my first television job, the news director told me that I should study Diane Sawyer's look and voice in order to be better at my job -- like I was ever going to look like Diane. Thank goodness Oprah came along.

Media is a tough career where regardless of your talent, looks really are still everything -- especially for us women. And to be fair, I've known more than a few men who've gone under the knife or tried extreme diets just to keep their faces in front of the camera.

But to succeed, we must deal with it; work to improve the environment for the women behind us, and move on with our lives.

There's room on the stage for all types of beauty.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT